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Responding to the Climate Crisis, Pt. 2: How Tech Fuels Adaptation

The global shift towards resilience is being shaped by technology solutions that also offer the potential to build a more equitable society.

Just as geopolitical conflicts have focused minds on preserving security, infrastructure vulnerabilities and our changing climate are driving how we reimagine resilient societies. And the need to build resilience sits at the convergence of the megatrends that we have identified as key to outwitting growing complexity in the global landscape. Hydrogen hubs would be unimaginable, for example, without Optimizing an Adaptable Workforce. And the two great technology megatrends of our era, Accelerating Innovation and Tech and Maximizing Data, are enabling and empowering both adaptation and resilience at the local, national, and transnational levels.

Just as public-private collaborations are vital to building adaptable and resilient societies, technology serves as another essential tool to achieve this goal on a massive scale. In the second part of this two-part series, we examine how we can help societies build resilience at every level, especially when coupled with the new mobile, adaptable workforce. 

 

Through Complexity to Simplicity

Data is one of our great weapons in the journey to adapt to climate change. In the built environment, Internet of Things devices can help monitor and track parameters such as temperature, humidity, and equipment performance in real time, alerting communities when infrastructure is at risk. Big data coupled with machine learning can identify weaknesses in infrastructure, be they supply chain disruptors, underutilized facilities or resources, or vulnerabilities to stressors such as natural disasters and economic downturns.

As more extreme weather coincides with increasingly fragmented communications channels, effective community outreach is key. In this sphere, recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) can be transformative, whether designing chatbots to help citizens access services, building algorithms to analyze a community’s needs and preferences, or using large language models to analyze and summarize information quickly during a crisis.

Governments, agencies, and societies are increasingly faced with the need to make big decisions fast. Innovative technological solutions can help shape, enhance, and accelerate the decision-making process. Creating digital simulations of entire cities allows practitioners to test the effects of policies and projects, while AI-powered data analysis can help societies and governments make informed choices around climate resilience.

Technological advances are necessarily complex and interconnected, but they must feel simple at the point of use. Rather than reinventing the wheel every time a new program lands, low-code development enables providers to use a basic template rapidly tailored to their needs. Centralizing access to all data slashes the potential for waste and corruption, while accelerating the rate at which funds reach the people and entities that need them. Societies, grantors, and lenders can monitor transactions; vendors can submit invoices; and end users can apply for resources using the same intuitive, transparent, yet secure platform.

 

Through Technology to Equity

Technolo gy also has a key role to play in solving perhaps the greatest challenge of the climate crisis: equity. For example, the Inflation Reduction Act’s home energy rebate program targets households in need, with 100% rebates available for those living on less than 80% of the area median income.1 The digital divide means such families and individuals may not have access to Wi-Fi or laptops,2 so ensuring a platform is intuitive, available in multiple languages, and accessible from a basic 4G smartphone makes the application process equitable across communities.

Both in the US and globally, government funds are often tied to environmental justice outcomes. The US Justice40 Initiative,for example, is intended to ensure that 40% of the benefits of specific federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities. Data modeling techniques traditionally used by large financial institutions to prevent fraud are being applied in new ways to help meet this goal, both by identifying such communities and measuring impact and flow of funds.

Technology helps resilient communities find outcomes that are both sustainable and equitable, such as Joplin, Missouri, which rebuilt as a smart city in the aftermath of a deadly tornado. Joplin enhanced digital inclusion to improve not only disaster resilience but access to information and education. And, because smart cities are just cities, the city supported lower-income families in moving to new, sustainable housing in areas where existing stock had been damaged, helping revivify its center and expand home ownership.

As we face the daunting fallout of industrialization, decarbonize assets and systems, and build resilience in communities and the infrastructure that serves them, we have a rare opportunity to outwit complexity and build a better, fairer, more sustainable world—not just for the present moment but for generations yet to come. Maximizing both public-private cooperation and new technologies will be key to achieving this civilization-critical goal.

 


1 “Inflation Reduction Act Tax Credits and Rebates,” Services, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, https://wexton.house.gov/services/inflation-reduction-act-tax-credits-and-rebates.htm.
2Emily A. Vogels, “Digital Divide Persists Even as Americans with Lower Incomes Make Gains in Tech Adoption,” Pew Research Center, June 22, 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2021/06/22/digital-divide-persists-even-as-americans-with-lower-incomes-make-gains-in-tech-adoption/.
The White House, “What Is the Justice40 Initiative?” Environmental Justice, https://www.whitehouse.gov/environmentaljustice/justice40/.


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